Mayor Greg Stanton said elected officials in the city of 1.4 million have maintained confidence in DeWitt’s projections. “He’s the kind of guy I could call late at night and talk budget issues,” he said. “He would definitely tell it to me straight.”
Ed Zuercher, an assistant city manager, credited DeWitt with softening the fiscal blow from the housing meltdown. When the city was facing a $277 million budget deficit, he said, DeWitt orchestrated a debt refinancing that saved the city about $100 million, helping to avoid service cuts and tax increases.
“He’s very, very smart when it comes to financing and refinancing indebtedness,” Zuercher said. “With his expertise we didn’t have to do as much. That was really important.”
Gray’s choice of an outsider — DeWitt is an Illinois native with no significant ties to the District or its leaders — breaks a string of financial leadership that stretches back to the federal control board that oversaw city spending from 1995 to 2001. Williams served as the city’s first independent chief financial officer during that period, then as mayor nominated former deputy Gandhi for the post after Valerie Holt left midway through her term in 2000.
Eric W. Price, a former D.C. deputy mayor who served on the search panel, said DeWitt distinguished himself by coming to a meeting with the panel “extremely well prepared.”
“He had looked into our budget,” he recalled. “He was talking about our cost of capital and what our depreciation was. We just were really impressed at how he went down into the weeds.”
Other finalists, Price said, had more experience in the city, and the search panel questioned DeWitt extensively on that subject. “He stressed, without us prompting him, that you have to get the community engaged, and that’s key in the District,” he said. “You can’t just sit at your desk, and Jeff understood that.”
City officials said salary discussions were not final, but DeWitt said he expects to be paid about $250,000 a year. His salary in Phoenix is $176,000; Gandhi makes about $200,000. The higher salary will require Congress to amend the District’s charter.
DeWitt said Thursday that he is prepared to move to the District and begin work within 30 days. A hearing on his nomination is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 23, said Jack Evans, chairman of the D.C. Council’s finance and revenue committee, with a council vote possible as early as Nov. 5.
Evans (D-Ward 2) said he remained skeptical about a nominee with so little experience in the city but was “cautiously optimistic” after meeting with DeWitt on Thursday afternoon. “Part of me thinks that having a fresh set of eyes might be helpful here,” he said. “Maybe we can figure out why we’re spending so much money.”
Aaron C. Davis contributed to this report.